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China: space exploration gains pace


MOSCOW. (Andrei Kislyakov for RIA Novosti) - China is going to play a major role in the global space exploration program.

 Soon, a new center for space research may emerge in the Eastern hemisphere and push the current players aside.

China's achievements in science and technology, as well as its consolidation of space programs in the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, which have a tremendous economic potential, will contribute to its development.

At the 59th International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, on October 2, Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration, announced that China was prepared to lead the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO).

No doubt the participating world leaders in space research, representing the United States, Russia and Europe, did not underestimate the significance and far-reaching consequences of the Chinese initiative.

Formally, APSCO was established by China, Thailand and Pakistan back in 1992. On October 28, 2005 China, Mongolia, Pakistan, Thailand, Iran, Peru, Bangladesh and Indonesia signed the APSCO Convention, shortly followed by Turkey. Argentina, Philippines, Malaysia and Ukraine may join the organization in the foreseeable future.

The participation of China, Pakistan and Iran, with their dynamically developing missile programs, will turn APSCO into an authoritative high-tech group. Such members of the organization as Thailand and Indonesia have already launched their own satellites. Thus, with China as its leader, the organization has a good chance of becoming very successful.

Although China has been following the initiatives of world leaders in space exploration, it has been making new technological breakthroughs. Three successful manned flights have inspired Beijing to build its own orbital laboratory. At the same time Beijing is making progress in developing a new generation of carrier rockets, a program of outer space exploration, including launching an artificial Moon satellite and preparing for a manned expedition to the Moon.

China's success in space exploration and its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region are evident. If backed up by the potential of APSCO, Beijing may turn into a leading global space power.

While the space exploration programs within the Asia-Pacific region are gaining pace, NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the European Space Agency (ESA) cannot decide on a shared direction for their joint space programs. In spite of encouraging official statements on the need to promote international cooperation in space exploration, both the United States and Europe are set on carrying out their own research, as well as getting useful information to ensure their strategic independence and safety.

A good example of such policy is NASA's Constellation Program aimed at developing U.S. space technologies for conducting large-scale space exploration, which does not envisage participation of other countries.

Another project of this kind is the U.S.-Russian International Space Station (ISS) program. Despite NASA's public statements, the United States see the use of Russian spaceships as a forced measure. In addition, NASA has failed to clearly formulate its vision of the ISS future once the Space Shuttle Program is over.

Cooperation between Russia and Europe in space is less dramatic and has not resulted in any impressive joint programs. The declared Roscosmos - ESA program of developing a new space shuttle system has not seen any practical steps yet. Moreover, EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in late September that any dependence on "the Russians" in organizing manned flights would be unacceptable.

However, in terms of finance and technology, space exploration programs are hard to implement without the involvement of other countries. As Andrei Ionin, a corresponding member of the Tsiolkovsky Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, puts it: "Today we must think about who our key partners in space exploration are. This may be the right moment to start looking eastward, rather than westward. Centers of economic, technological and political power have been shifting to the Asia-Pacific region, where China, Japan and South Korea are experiencing dynamic development."

Once APSCO has advanced to the practical stage, there will be another reason for "looking eastward."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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